"SWATH" Productions Notes
From Alice to Snow White:
Reimagining Epic Tales
Joe Roth, former chairman of 20th Century Fox and Walt Disney Studios and producer of Tim Burton’s fantastical global hit Alice in Wonderland, knew that his team had found something incredible when Evan Daugherty’s script for what would become Snow White and the Huntsman arrived at his Los Angeles-based production house, Roth Films. At the time, Roth’s head of development (and executive producer of this film), Palak Patel, saw the potential in Daugherty’s story, which was an innovative take on the age-old Brothers Grimm tale, originally published in 1812 in the text “Kinder- und Hausmärchen” (“Children’s and Household Tales”).
Roth and Patel were also responsible for finding the man who would helm the company’s next epic action-adventure. Rupert Sanders, a highly decorated commercial director, had made his way to the top of his game with a unique visual style that distinctly branded ad campaigns such as those for the juggernaut video game Halo 3. Roth, Patel and fellow executive producer Gloria Borders grew fascinated by the uncompromising tone and impressive variety in Sanders’ work, as well as the depth of soul to his commercials.
When Roth’s team had a draft of the script with which all were comfortable, Sanders was the first and the only filmmaker to whom they sent the idea. A veteran of imaginative gaming spots, Sanders believed it was as important to reimagine the story as it was to open up a filmic Snow White to both genders. Everyone felt that Sanders’ vision and skill set offered a deft balance that would guarantee the production its green light.
Roth reflects that with this time-tested story and Sanders’ visual arsenal, he knew they were on the right track: “I loved the idea of turning this story on its head. What I realized after making Alice in Wonderland is that if you find the right story and you put a visionary filmmaker on it—someone who’s got a real eye—and you have a modern take and use all the modern tools, you have the best of all worlds.” He tells that he found that man in Sanders: “When we looked at his commercial reel, it was clear he had a fantastic eye. I was impressed at how bright he was, and I knew he would be a fast learner.”
Admittedly, it wasn’t initially an easy sell to the British filmmaker. Recounts Sanders: “I’d been looking for a project, and I’d been close on a couple of things. Then I was sent the script, and I thought, ‘Snow White? Are you having a laugh?’ But after I read it, I thought, ‘Wow, this is an incredible opportunity to create a world that people haven’t seen before.’ What touched me about the story was that it drew on something that so many people have within them. We all read it as a child and saw the cartoon that was done in 1937—the first Disney foray into fairy tales. I loved the idea of a reinvention.”
Sanders acknowledges that he was also excited by “the chance to do something more masculine with the story.” He says: “Snow White has an arc that is a very mythical rise of a hero. She’s almost the female Luke Skywalker. We’ve built a universe that touches on her themes, including the iconic metaphors and imagery, but everything is skewed. We still have the mirror, the red apple and the evil Queen, but we’ve thrown into that massive battles and a rebellion. This story is much bigger, and the stakes are much higher. It’s a battle of life against death.”
Within 24 hours of reading the screenplay, Sanders put together a library of ideas for his producers. He presented his preliminary vision the next day, incorporating into Daugherty’s story visual concepts that borrowed from English and French sculptors, as well as German artists. Sanders had no interest in delivering a fragile Snow White who was relegated to being saved by someone else; his heroine was as laser-focused upon her mission as her antagonist was.
As the script developed, the director found the symbols in the Brothers Grimm tale to be quite imperative in moving along the narrative. He notes: “They’re very potent. Everything in that story—the mirror, the apple—is iconic and has so many deeper themes. The apple is the knowledge in the tree of life. The Snow White story helps us to understand mortality and teaches us not to bury ourselves in jealousy and rage, because that stops your living. It teaches that you should enjoy your life and not try to seek something that is ultimately irrelevant.”
To demonstrate to executives at Universal Pictures the action and emotion of which a first-time features director was capable, Sanders took a skeleton cast and crew in January 2011 and filmed select visual scenes that would be captured in his vision of Snow White and the Huntsman. Pulling in several favors from friends and colleagues in the industry, he cut together a short reel, added a few special effects and relied upon a friend to conduct the voice-over. When the studio saw the tonal guide that took Sanders approximately a week to complete—with the Queen dissolving into ravens, her apple disintegrating to its core, and fairies emerging from the breasts of birds—it green-lit the film. Everyone recognized that the young filmmaker was more than capable of helming and delivering an epic with a distinctive vision.
Sanders sums his thoughts on the visual style for this film: “I wanted to make a very rich, fantastical world, but I wanted to separate fairy tale from fantasy; they are very different to me. I wanted to create something that was muscular but very emotional and to make a grand, epic-scale film that carried as much emotion as it did scale. A lot of the times, you see a film of this nature that is very heavily visually affected but has very little heart. I wanted to find that emotion in the story.”
As preproduction took shape, The Blind Side’s John Lee Hancock and 47 Ronin’s Hossein Amini contributed to what would become the final script based upon Daugherty’s story, and Roth requested that a seasoned filmmaker and longtime M. Night Shyamalan collaborator, Sam Mercer, join the team as a fellow producer.
Mercer describes that his interest in coming aboard the production was due to how this reinvention still honored the lasting appeal of this character. He reflects upon our heroine: “Snow White is on a journey, but she hasn’t yet accepted it. She’s got to take control of the kingdom and ascend to what her father left her. The character is someone who is out for her people, and those core issues fundamentally resonate with us. With Rupert’s aesthetics and eye for cinematic detail, we knew he would give this material a contemporary feel and make it into a big, fun summer action movie.”
By Fairest Blood:
Casting the Action-Adventure
Roth, Mercer and Sanders aimed to create a film that was not only timeless, but would also capture the spirit, style and tone of the Brothers Grimm, perhaps in the way these folklorists might envision a version of their story 200 years after they first wrote it down. With production due to start in the United Kingdom in fall 2011, casting director LUCY BEVAN began the search for actors all across the world to bring life to this new vision.
The first role cast was also the wickedest: Queen Ravenna. The daughter of a sorceress, Ravenna slowly found her way to the dark side. Abducted by a vicious master when she was a girl, the only power Ravenna wielded was her astonishing beauty. Though her mother bestowed upon her an enchantment to protect her from the ravages of time, Ravenna is forced to maintain it by consuming the life force of young maidens. After she bewitched and killed Snow White’s father, King Magnus, Ravenna stalled her death and threw off the balance of life with an evil that spread like cancer across the kingdom. But her cruelty did not end there. To become truly immortal, Ravenna must consume the heart of Snow White…the moment her stepdaughter becomes the fairest in the land.
Reflects Sanders on the power of this creature in our minds, as well as her role in this interpretation of the iconic story: “The Queen symbolizes death, and she is trying to stop her own from arriving. She is seeking immortality, so everything in the kingdom is thrown off balance. Oppositely, Snow White is the beating heart of life, and the Huntsman’s job is to take that life. If the Queen fails, life and death may fall back in sync and the kingdom will return to how it once was.”
Academy Award® winner Charlize Theron was brought aboard to play the fabled monarch. Discussing his decision to cast Theron, Sanders commends: “Charlize has given such staggering performances in her career, but she is also such an incredibly beautiful woman. She encompasses, more than any other actor out there, both power and beauty personified. She is Margaret Thatcher-meets-Kate Moss.”
Expounding upon the film’s symbolism and Theron’s decisions in bringing those tropes to life, Sanders adds: “When you are dealing with archetypes, you can play them big. People want to relish when the Queen says, ‘Mirror, mirror, on the wall.’ We want to see them coming from someone of this stature and beauty.”
Roth walks us through the team’s casting process: “Choosing Charlize was the idea right from the start. I’d worked with her in the past. We went over to the commercial shoot she was on and waited for her to take a break. When she came over, in four-inch stiletto heels and dressed in a very commercial way, I thought, ‘Rupert is going to be blown away!’”
The producer was just as pleased when she arrived on set to begin filming and was game for the most intense of situations to get into character, including an uncomfortable swim in a tub of black oil. “Charlize gives a performance as ferocious as the one she was asking for,” adds Roth. “It’s an interesting amalgam: She’s always in control, she’s magnificent to watch and she’s fearsome.”
Theron was attracted to the part because of the complex humanity of a betrayed and wounded creature—one that easily could have been drawn as a screeching stereotype. She explains a bit of the Queen’s backstory: “Ravenna’s mother instilled into her at a very young age that she can only be her true best self if she remains young and stays beautiful. She realizes that her magical powers are her survival. And that’s the road she travels.”
Though Ravenna has, according to Theron, “brutal instincts” and “an obsession with needing Snow White’s beating heart to give her immortality,” the reigning monarch hasn’t completely lost all traces of her humanity. Like Sanders, the actress appreciated the difficult lessons inherent in this timeless story. Theron shares: “Ravenna realizes that she wants something that, if she made different choices in her life, she could have had. But because of how she decided to live and the bed that she made for herself—one that she’s lying in right now—she can’t. It’s not even an option for her.”
When Snow White’s mother died and her father married Ravenna, the young princess found her innocence and compassion to be qualities the new Queen loathed. Locked away in a tower for seven years, Snow White grew up watching her father’s murderer rule the kingdom with an iron fist. But the young beauty, who had begun training as an archer, falconer and horsewoman, has escaped and now trains with an uneasy ally. The time has come for her to defend her people from the one who’s been crippling them. She makes an oath that she will become their weapon and challenges her fellow outcasts to ride with her against Ravenna.
Sanders knew that they had to walk a fine line with the character of Snow White. In adapting the centuries-old fairy tale, originally about a little girl who is more victim than fighter, it was important to the filmmakers that Snow White and her journey remain identifiable for contemporary audiences across the world. The hurdles and problems that she faces are issues with which girls and women grapple in modern day: loneliness and maturation, plus issues of trust, love and the power (as well as the ultimate fading) of beauty.
The casting of Ravenna’s nemesis was slightly trickier than finding her pursuer. The filmmakers were searching for an actress who could capture both sides of the archetypal character: the innocence, naiveté and tenderness that Snow White demonstrates in the first half of our story, and the tough, physical warrior princess that she becomes in the second half. They discovered a number of younger actresses who could play the first half of the movie brilliantly but had trouble convincing the team that they could carry off the tougher persona.
Likewise, when older actresses auditioned, they could well portray the battle-hardened soldier but were unconvincing as the recessive captive that the film’s early scenes demanded.
After a worldwide search for a performer who could fulfill the demands of this expansive role, Kristen Stewart, known for her role as Bella Swan in the blockbuster Twilight saga, was cast in the much coveted role of Snow White. Comments Sanders of the team’s choice: “Kristen is such an incredible talent. She has obviously done amazing work in her projects to date, but this opens her up to an even larger audience and gives her a classical role. She’s previously been in films that are of our era and not done a film quite like this. This is her chance to rise, and to shine as well. The two track well together.”
Roth gives a bit of background on her casting: “We all felt convinced that Snow White was not shy but somebody who was an aggressive, assertive, positive Joan of Arc-like figure. We originally were looking for an unknown to play the character, in the same way we did on Alice in Wonderland, where we found Mia Wasikowska. However, Rupert and I decided to fly down to New Orleans, where the last Twilight film was being shot, and sat and talked to Kristen. We felt great about casting Kristen. She really did her homework for this role. She spent four months riding horses and four months with an English accent.”
Stewart introduces us to a young woman we thought we had long known: “We’re not trying to take Snow White and turn her on her side; we stay very true to who she is in the story. She represents a reminder of just how great people can be to one another.” Agreeing with Theron, the actress appreciated the material’s thoughtful take on beauty and power. Stewart says: “It’s been interesting to play a young girl who is completely unaware of any vanity. She just has none. In almost every other role you play, you’re at least aware of yourself and might have to play a girl dealing with vanity as she grows into a woman. The fact that Snow White has absolutely none of that, and Ravenna has the ultimate opposite, says something very nice about what people find beautiful in life.”
The performer appreciated the writers’ take on Snow White, a character initially trapped in a forest that draws its strength from any weakness. Stewart reflects: “I do admire strong characters, but this wasn’t strong for the sake of strong. It was so feminine and so human, and I love playing a character who is someone that you’re going to root for and throw your drink on the ground and stand up and go, ‘Yeah!’”
This part represented Stewart’s first time as an action heroine, albeit a conflicted one. She says: “Snow White is initially this disconnected martyr. After she escapes, she’s becoming this human being again, but she’s not necessarily fighting for herself. It’s like there’s a hole that can’t be filled. Most action characters are so self-righteous and vindictive, but she won’t do that. I’ve never seen that before, and I think it’s awesome.”
Stewart knew there would be much stunt work involved in a production of this size and scope, and she was more than ready for the challenge. For example, during Snow White’s escape scene, the actress was required to be literally up to her shoulders in an enclosed sewer set with dozens of live rats. As well, she had to jump off of a two-story building into a pool on a chilly London day to make this daring escape.
The other title character to be cast was, of course, the Huntsman: Eric, a hunter who knows the Enchanted and Dark Forests like the back of his hand. Not only did the Huntsman once have respect for the animals he tracked, he also still has the ability to think like one.
But after his wife, Zara, died, Eric found his only comfort as a mercenary and a drunk. Now, the Huntsman has been tasked to follow Snow White into the forest and return her to Ravenna, who needs to consume her heart. But when Eric discovers the treachery of the Queen, he channels his rage into training a young woman who is determined to end what Ravenna began. Eric begins to see in Snow White an end to the darkness and to believe that the king’s standard could fly again.
Initially conceived as a character much older than Snow White, the Huntsman morphed during the screenplay’s development. Thor himself, Chris Hemsworth, was courted for the part after the filmmakers watched him in his career-defining role as the Nordic god of war. His charisma and on-screen presence convinced them that he could embody the tortured former soldier who finds salvation in a young woman called Snow White.
With his attitude, humor, intensity and physical presence, Hemsworth proved he could bring life to the character and serve as the ideal balance between Stewart and Theron. Shares Mercer of their choice: “We spent a fair amount of time exploring who should be the Huntsman and how to round out the triangle. Through the evolution of talking to many actors and getting their takes on it, we discovered Chris. He is becoming a huge star, and we knew we had to have him.”
Hemsworth’s first day on set was one of the most intimidating of the shoot: his big scene with Theron in which the Queen dispatches the Huntsman. Roth knew that Hemsworth was up for the challenge of matching wits with the Oscar® winner. The producer compliments: “The guy is built like a linebacker, he’s gorgeous to look at, and he has great depth of character. Chris is the guy that puts up 110 percent all the time.”
Discussing his part, Hemsworth says: “The Huntsman is a lost soul. He has given up on life and himself. When we first meet him, he’s a drunk, living alone in the woods working as a mercenary, hunting and tracking. He is then assigned the role of finding Snow White and bringing her back to the Queen.” Offering his reason for tackling the role, Hemsworth states: “I liked the idea of playing the reluctant hero: rough around the edges but with a good heart underneath. We tried to push the inconsistencies of his character, keep him unpredictable.”
Hemsworth also appreciated the “classic Western character” that the writers had drawn and the visual style that his director ensured. The performer adds: “I read it with Rupert, and I saw visually how creative he was. We had discussions about character and story, and I was inspired by what he said. I’ve worked with plenty of people who have done far more films than Rupert, but many are not nearly as equipped, focused or innovative as he is. He’s unreal. I love these types of films: big, fantastical, epic stories that have a real heart at the center of them. They’re relatable characters, and the story is about hope and inspiration and love and tragedy. These are the things that we all deal with, but the story is told on an incredible, vivid background.”
Although Hemsworth and Stewart carefully practiced their fight scenes together, mistakes were made during production.
During a particularly vigorous take, Stewart accidentally punched the seasoned kickboxer in the face. His nose swelled up, and his wound had to be covered up with makeup. Stewart was truly a match for this Huntsman.
No telling of this timeless fable would be complete without a handsome prince. And in this version that man is William, Snow White’s closest childhood friend and the son of Duke Hammond, a former consort of the king. When Ravenna’s dark army took control of the castle and Snow White was imprisoned, William, played by Sam Claflin, fled with his father to the outlying lands populated by trolls, dwarves and fairies. They have spent years amassing an army to protect what’s left of the kingdom from the venomous woman who has upset the natural order of the world. When William learns that his boyhood love is still alive, the expert marksman vows to find Snow White and never leave her again.
Claflin shares a bit about his character’s motivation: “William strives to make the world a better place and does so by disobeying his father’s orders, which obviously makes him quite rebellious. But he’s doing it for what he believes is the good of the world. So, he’s a very respectable bloke.”
Tired of living in exile, William is ready to reclaim the kingdom for the people who have been oppressed by an entity whose powers seem to know no end. He finds an ally in his childhood friend Snow White. Adds Claflin: “He knows that there’s more to life than living behind these tall, big walls, and his father is just playing it safe and wants no one to have to risk their lives. William believes that you have to take a risk to make something better.”
About the casting of Claflin and William’s part in this story, Sanders offers: “Sam played it excellently, and William is a difficult one to play, because the Huntsman is so charismatic because he’s the bad guy, the one we love to hate and hate to love. But we’ve tried to make William dynamic. He’s the warrior son of a statesman father, and he’s out there fighting and training on his own. The image that scarred him as a child is that his betrothed, Snow White, was ripped out of his hands during a battle when Ravenna kills the king and takes over the castle. We were all so impressed by how well Sam handled a very tough part.”
Supporting talent brought on to the film include Sam Spruell as the villainous Finn, Ravenna’s brother, a henchman who does whatever evil his sister bids of him. Vincent Regan plays the brave Duke Hammond, King Magnus’ former second-in-command (and William’s father) who has taken his people to the outer lands. Noah Huntley portrays the ill-fated King Magnus, whose early death throws the land into deep despair, while Liberty Ross plays Magnus’ dearly departed first bride, the young princess’ mother. Lily Cole plays the young handmaiden Greta, whose youth is drained by Ravenna. Finally, in her feature-film debut, Raffey Cassidy portrays Snow White as a young girl.
The Dwarves Are Chosen
The cream of the British acting establishment was solicited to play the film’s dwarves, and through a combination of visual effects and old-school trickery, you will believe their size. In casting the dwarves, Sanders pulled off a bit of a hat trick with his thespians. He went to each of the potential dwarves separately, with drawings of them as the characters as well as elaborate backstories for these warriors destined to help Snow White upon her journey. He knew that if he could get a meeting with them, his passion would be infectious. Indeed, every single actor said yes.
Sanders walks us through how he was able to attract such talent: “It was almost like casting a British gangster film. I had been working on something in that realm, and these guys were all on my list for that project. When it came to casting the dwarves, I wanted to do something different with them. I needed to find tough guys with big hearts. I wanted them to sing and cry together, and laugh and fight together. They’re a real band of brothers. It’s definitely true that once you cast one, the others start to fall into place.
“I created a hardback bible of imagery that describes the world in great detail—the geography, history, the present conundrum of the kingdom—so they would have a great idea of what the world was like,” the director continues. “Then a lot of it was their trusting me and my sweet-talking them into doing it. The dwarves bring so much to the film. They’re the comical interlude who bring laughs, but they also show another balance of emotion. They’re heartfelt.”
Beith, played by Ian McShane, is the leader of the dwarves. He is an old acquaintance of the Huntsman’s and knows how tricky Eric can be. Nion, played by Nick Frost, is Beith’s right-hand man and a fervent dwarf supremacist who does not trust Snow White, Eric or either of their motives. Gort, played by Ray Winstone, is an ill-tempered, drunken dwarf who abhors most music and will put moss in his ears to drown it (and everyone else) out. Coll, played by Toby Jones, is one of the toughest dwarves and serves his men as if he were a Special Forces soldier. He and Duir, played by Eddie Marsan, comprise a warrior duo. Alongside his other half, Duir takes out any enemy who dares to mess with dwarfkind. Gus, played by Brian Gleeson, is the youngest of the dwarves and falls in love with Snow White the minute he meets her. The young fiddle player will prove his loyalty when it comes to protecting the savior of his kingdom.
The last two dwarves are a father and son. Muir, played by Bob Hoskins, is blind. A wise seer and spiritual leader of his clan, he is certain that Snow White is pure of heart and has been chosen to heal the land ravaged by Ravenna. He believes that the young princess is destined to become the face of promise for the kingdom. Finally, his son, Quert, played by Johnny Harris, guides his father. Quert sings Celtic ballads with a heartbreaking voice and is an accomplished musician.
Indeed, many of the actors portraying the dwarves have worked with one another before, and McShane returns to work with one of his Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides’ co-stars, Claflin, for this film. McShane sums the team’s thoughts on this project: “The story itself is a great one: It’s magical, brutal, sexy and very different to any other epic I’ve been involved with so far. It’s an intelligent script, and the visual qualities that Rupert and his team bring to it will be extraordinary.”
Marsan jokes that Sanders might have reassessed his excitement during postproduction: “Rupert bit off more than he could chew when the dwarves turned up on set. We were like a bunch of naughty schoolboys who just created havoc. It’s the character. It just makes you quite mischievous, quite bawdy and quite rude.”
Capes and Battle Gear:
Costumes of Snow White and the Huntsman
Sanders and his producers carefully handpicked an outstanding team of creative department heads, all selected for their level of expert craftsmanship. An Academy Award® winner for Alice in Wonderland, Chicago and Memoirs of a Geisha, visionary costume designer Colleen Atwood was given the challenge of presenting the characters to modern audiences through astonishingly intricate and carefully assembled designs.
The designer was a longtime collaborator of Sanders’ on his advertisement work. Says the director: “Colleen Atwood is far more experienced than any of us put together, and I’ve worked with her for a number of years on commercials. It was amazing when she said she’s do it, because the wardrobe is so important to this film. If it isn’t fantastical enough—but also realistic enough—then it doesn’t help the characters get into their world, and that would be a real downfall. Her wardrobes blend seamlessly into this world, and they speak volumes about the world and the characters.”
Symbolism was crucial to Sanders’ telling of this story, and Atwood translated his vision gorgeously. For example, Magnus’ coat of arms is emblematic of his reign as a good and benevolent ruler during a time in which the kingdom prospered. It was fruitful and alive, and the crest symbolizes peace. The apple on it is an iconic part of the Brothers Grimm’s Snow White story, and the apple tree is an integral part of the film that is symbolically represented.
Atwood starts every film with research via the usual mediums, but she fancies museums in particular to inspire her. Based in London, the Wallace Collection, home to one of Europe’s finest collections of arms and armor (besides the art, furniture and porcelain), was of enormous help to her. Her travels also took her abroad to Istanbul. She explains: “I spent a couple of days buying fabrics and bits and pieces. It helped me to pull the look of the movie together, and everything that I bought there I used in a relevant way. I still needed hundreds of units of manufactured materials, but it was such a great marketplace for handmade materials. It was very useful for inspiration, and a place to find materials like beautiful woven wool dyed with natural fibers.”
She was excited to work with Sanders on his feature-film debut, and she knew she could honor the audience’s shared memories of the lead character while still telling her own version of the tale. “Snow White was one of the first movies I saw when I was a child,” recalls Atwood. “There were certain things that were magical about the Disney character, and I loved the way she was dressed, but our character could hardly be dressed in red, blue and yellow.”
As Stewart’s Snow White is a very physically active character, Atwood designed a modern-looking costume that is customized at various stages of the story. “The outfit Snow White wears for a majority of the movie is made from beautiful green suede that perfectly complemented Kristen’s eye color. The dress has several layers including legging pants underneath to allow the character to be active and not have us worry about constantly readjusting costumes and stapling skirts to boots,” says Atwood. “The dress starts long, but she eventually gets a makeover from the Huntsman during their travels. Then we reveal a shorter version of her dress with the leggings, which will hopefully appeal to the girls today, but still stay viable within the realm of the story.”
Toward the end of her journey, Snow White goes to battle to fight for her people’s future. As her character changes, so does her costume. To accommodate, Atwood designed a suit of armor suitable for Stewart to wear on horseback and in battle. “When Snow White goes into battle, she doesn’t have time to assemble the proper armor,” comments Atwood. “So we took different elements of armor to compile an outfit made to look like she was armored.” She adds: “It’s not supposed to look like a slick, pulled-together suit. She can ride and fight in it, but there are very subtle clues that tell the audience that it has been thrown together in haste. There are leg pieces missing and the whole costume is not symmetrical.”
For the award winner, Snow White’s costumes were enjoyable to create. She reflects: “I have a daughter about Kristen’s age, and I wanted to design something that would connect with her age group. I do a lot of period and fantasy work, but I love young women’s clothing.”
The Huntsman basically stays in one outfit for the duration of the story, and all of his garments are made of rough organic materials that a hunter of his station would wear. For the character, Atwood drew her inspiration from what would have been his natural surroundings: the great outdoors. Referencing shapes and fabrics from medieval times, Atwood’s crew sewed together smaller pieces of animal skins. “He has a lot of layers to his clothing,” she says. “Everything had to be useful to him. For example, his big, heavy coat could also be used as a blanket to sleep on.”
The Huntsman couldn’t live up to his name without his signature use of weapons. He carries a double-axe rig and a belt that holds his array of knives. Atwood needed to design the axe rig on his back to enable him to grab his weapons quickly. Her team eventually settled on a rig that used magnets to secure the axes to the harness, allowing Hemsworth to access them with ease and speed. After a good deal of training with stunt coordinator BEN COOKE, the actor was ready to go.
The most ornate wardrobe does, of course, belong to Ravenna. While Magnus was a good king who ruled over a prosperous land, his murderess does the opposite. Naturally, that cruelty would be reflected in her heraldry. Ravenna’s crest symbolizes the dark hold over a land that was once fruitful. The tree in her emblem is dead and blackened and bears no fruit.
Atwood and her team had their skilled hands full. “Designing for a character like Ravenna is the film equivalent of couture costume,” she reflects. “Making costumes for someone who is six-feet tall is just awesome, but you can’t have a character like Ravenna without having an actress like Charlize Theron to work the costume. There’s a lot of costume, and it could be overwhelming to some actresses.”
Through Ravenna, Atwood tried to personify evil in a different way: one that also showed a bit of vulnerability. Ravenna wears 12 major costumes within the story, each one handmade and requiring hundreds of hours of labor. To prepare, Atwood discussed the character with Theron at length. The designer says: “She also wanted to have a bit of fun with and not be too strapped in to the cliché of what the evil Queen was. We wanted her to be a person too. She had royal duties and has some feelings and background about where she came from, but as the story progresses, so does her madness. Her world is crumbling, and as her madness inhabits her, I started to change the materials and the feeling of her clothes. In the beginning, her costumes have a real shape to them, but as we go on, they get more spectral and buglike. It’s my metamorphosis for her.”
A consumer of young maidens’ youth, Ravenna steals her beauty from anything and everything around her. Once that feast is over, her world begins to deteriorate. “When the gold dress and cape transform, we see the transition of Ravenna’s beauty,” shares Atwood. “Ravenna takes her beauty, but Snow White’s beauty is internal and owned, so you see it grow throughout the story. That’s the allegorical contrast between the two kinds of beauty in the story and in the world.”
The Queen’s costumes were nothing short of astonishing. Ravenna’s transformation cape—her raven cloak—took a skilled dressmaker four weeks to make from a concept and pattern designed by Atwood. Each rooster feather was hand-trimmed before it was applied. Ravenna’s raven cloak was a project of love for the craftsperson who made it. And haute couture does not come cheap. The cost: about £20,000.
Theron commends her designer, noting that Atwood made sure that “the devil was in the details.” The actress explains how costuming followed function: “Colleen truly understood the themes of this story, and that it is not just about beauty. Everything had to look a certain way to Ravenna because that’s her philosophy in life. She lives in a man’s world. She’s been told by her mother to believe that men will only allow you to be as good as you possibly can be, if you are beautiful.
“I knew the costumes were going to be spectacular, but Colleen took it to another level,” Theron continues. “I felt like every costume had a feeling of not quite what it seems. In a way, these dresses were like torture devices for Ravenna. I love that because I feel like Ravenna was, in a way, more torturous toward herself than to the people that she was killing.”
Dressing the actress to play the monarch was no walk in the park. As well, Theron, no stranger to immersing herself in the special effects makeup needed for difficult parts, understood that Ravenna’s aging makeup would require two to six hours to apply. In fact, she often had call times at the wee hours of the morning, this all before donning the intricate costumes.
For Snow White and the Huntsman, Atwood’s design team procured materials from all over the world, including beetle shells from Thailand, fabrics from Turkey, sequins from China and chain mail designed in the U.K. but made in India, as well as select jewels from renowned designer CATHY WATERMAN. Always up for more challenges, the team prepped for their largest day to come on the shoot: one that involved more than 400 extras dressed in medieval clothing.
Shrinking the Talent:
VFX and SFX of the Dwarves
Sanders considers himself to be a practical director who isn’t interested in visual effects for the sake of them. He’d rather use VFX to enhance what has already been captured manually on camera. During the shoot, an astonishing 90 percent of footage was taken on physical sets or on location with limited green screen. However, one of the biggest challenges for Sanders and director of photography Greig Fraser was shooting the dwarves on camera, but having them appear smaller alongside the other cast members.
Several different techniques were used to produce the specific looks for these characters on screen. One potential solution came from one of the production’s VFX supervisors (and additional 2nd unit director), CEDRIC NICOLAS-TROYAN, a longtime collaborator of Sanders’. “An effects supervisor tries to find the technical solution to a creative problem,” explains Nicolas-Troyan. “I had to come up with ideas of how to show well-known actors as characters half of their normal size.”
Nicolas-Troyan wowed the director, the producers and the studio with a test reel of a concept he had designed to “shorten” the legs of the cast. Though this would make the actors appear smaller on screen, using it for all the shots needed would blow the budget and time frame…and make it improbable to hit the film’s release date. “We couldn’t use visual effects every time we see a dwarf, or we’d be dead in the water and never make our days,” says Nicolas-Troyan.
The VFX supervisor had long ago learned that there’s more than one way to get the job done. He reflects: “We used some very old-school techniques, like rostrums [platforms], which help fill the gaps in the viewer’s mind. In some scenes, we would shoot the actor and shrink his legs, and in others, we used a face replacement.”
Visual effects producer LYNDA THOMPSON adds: “It’s also about the framing of the shot: If you don’t see the actors’ feet, they appear to be walking on ground level. Principal actors for dwarves are walking about two feet below them, so the framing of the shot makes them appear shorter. This really helped to solve being able to crack on with the shoot in camera.”
On wider shots, shorter doubles for the actors were dressed and made up to look like the principal characters, which is another great way of saving time and allowing the director and cinematographer to shoot physically. Thompson says: “However, there are some scenes where we have the doubles or stunt doubles close up and you can tell it’s not a principal actor, so those were our true print face replacements.”
Dwarf Prosthetics and Designs
For both the principal actors and their doubles, the daily routine of getting camera-ready sometimes began as other cast and crew were coming home from a night out. Due to the amount of prosthetics, hair and makeup—under the supervision of hair department head LUCA VANNELLA and makeup department head SHARON MARTIN—and costumes that needed to be applied and donned, some of the actors and key crew were up extremely early in the morning.
Prosthetics designer DAVID WHITE drew his initial designs by taking Sanders’ lead with what his director did—or more to the point—did not want from his dwarves. “Rupert didn’t want pointy ears or big chins and that over-the-top fantastical element,” remembers White. “His angle was very different, but his vision was quite extraordinary.” White gave Sanders mock-ups of each of the characters for his input, and they would discuss looks and alterations. Commends White: “Rupert takes you on a road that is so clear that you just have to follow. It totally works.”
White was responsible for the visual enhancement of the dwarves, accentuating certain features of the actors through detailed prostheses. These were not always to the extreme, but enough to make each one of them unique. He explains: “It was a question of getting all of the actors on board before it was established how we were going to handle certain aspects. I haven’t seen dwarves quite like this before, but they work so well in the movie.”
By using silicone bases, White and his team ensured that the actors were able to act through their prosthetics. “These prosthetics are so thin that actors can move underneath; they are very flexible,” says the designer. “However, the dwarf doubles are a different story, and a completely different build in terms of prosthetic makeup.”
The principal actors’ doubles needed to have prosthetics applied to make them look just like the actors. However, size and head-shape differences required a completely different set of prosthetics. “Some of the doubles’ prosthetics are more masklike, but still very thin and flexible and practical,” comments White. “We accommodated all of the different elements and copied the principal actors’ looks—with all of their prosthetics—on to another person who was a totally different design. It’s a good thing all of our characters are such strong designs; they read from a distance and look fantastic. I’m amazed how close the camera can actually get to them.”
All of the dwarves had different prosthetic designs, makeup, hairstyles and facial hair. Therefore, the actors were normally in the prosthetics trailer as early as 2:30 or 3:00 a.m. “There were a lot of different processes to get them camera-ready, and there was an enormous amount of jumping around with eight dwarves in one trailer,” laughs White. Not enough work? With eight dwarves and eight doubles, the crew had a minimum of 16 dwarves on a given workday, not taking into account any stunt doubles or stand-ins needed for certain scenes.
Considering the amount of time these performers had to sit in their respective chairs, White put a great deal of consideration into which artist from his department would be assigned to each actor, and where the actors were positioned within the trailers. “I don’t think I’ve ever had a trailer full of British actors of that caliber; it was quite extraordinary,” says White. “There was a lot of banter and a great vibe, but all of the gentlemen have a discipline when it comes to work and were good sports about coming in so early. They each had their different ways of dealing with it—some napped, some read, some listened to music…all sorts of tricks were used to get by.”
Despite the prep work, the actors who portray the dwarves were up for the challenge at hand. “It was tough but when we finished and you saw the quality of their work, you knew it was worth every second,” says Winstone. “Genius.”
Prosthetics used to be made from the standard foam latex, but as the material is so dense and has no translucency whatsoever, it has to be painted to create an effect. Because the use of latex puts more pressure on the lighting scenarios, silicone is the preferred material of the day. White commends its fantastic qualities, noting, “We can change the density and the color to get it exactly right for the actor or actress.”
With a minimum of eight principal dwarves and eight doubles all needing prosthetics for each new shooting day, White and his team created more than 400 different sets of prosthetics for all of these artists…and that went up by the day. For example, if every single eyebrow on a principal prosthetic was manually punched 300 times, that resulted in 600 punches on every single piece…times 400!
As the costume, hair, makeup and prosthetics departments all had to deal with the trials and tribulations of marrying the images of the principals with their doubles, so did PETER ELLIOTT. The established movement director has worked on more than 50 features including such classics as Gorillas in the Mist: The Story of Dian Fossey and Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes and recent marvels such as Where the Wild Things Are and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
Elliott’s challenge on this film was to teach the principal actors and their respective doubles how to all match the manner in which they move. To do this he collaborated with the cast to invent a walk that was achievable by both actors playing the same role. Then, each pair had to learn to walk in a manner that was unique to their particular character.
“I was given three weeks during which we had intense rehearsals,” recalls Elliott. “I started with the doubles, just to get the generic framework, then took our principals and worked on walks. People do not realize how hard it is to change something as integral as the way you walk…and then make it look and feel completely natural. It was a tight time frame to get it ready, but we managed it in the end.”
One of the most intrinsic things that the actors changed for their walks was their center of gravity. “When we sit on two legs, our center of gravity is completely balanced and in the middle,” shares Elliott. “To release the weight from one leg to take a step, we lean backwards slightly, which releases our weight to put the other leg forward. Our center of gravity is continually and very minutely going backwards and forwards.”
This was quite different among the taller and shorter actors. Says Elliott: “Our doubles had a whole different way of walking. Their legs are shorter, and they don’t have the same distance our principals do in which to achieve that. So they change their center of gravity from side to side, which creates a natural twist in their walk.”
It was quite a new experience for our new band of dwarves. “We had to go to dwarf college,” recounts Frost. “Peter Elliott, who is one of the best movement coaches in the world, trained us to walk in a particular way for what seemed like weeks and weeks. There was a joke amongst the dwarves on set. You’d just hear someone cry out ‘small steps,’ which is exactly what Peter shouted at us constantly for weeks while hitting us with bamboo.”
Clothing the Dwarves
Once the principals and doubles had been through prosthetics, hair or wig application and makeup, they were finally ready to get into costume. “The dwarves were one of the main challenges for me, as each of those characters had a personality,” says Atwood. “Mathematically it was simple because it was all about proportion, but if I managed to get the head-and-shoulders ratio right between a principal and his double, I couldn’t make the body thing work. We ended up using body suits on some of the actors and doubles to make the bodies correspond, and then exaggerated the dwarf quality in the principal actor.”
The body suits had to be specifically designed to re-create the body shape of each principal actor and his double. Indeed, they were intended to change the methodology of the actor. The costume design became an incredibly important part of the technicalities behind the suit design, which can appear to lower the crotch and change the shapes of the arms, legs and body.
Even though this story exists in a fantastical world, it was still grounded in a time period that one could believe. From the beginning of preproduction, Atwood collaborated with Sanders, prosthetics and the hair and makeup teams to achieve this feat. The costume designer says: “Rupert talked to us all about how he wanted Snow White and the Huntsman to be a bit edgier than just a fairy tale.”
If you look close enough, you’ll notice that Atwood subtly incorporated the characters’ personalities into the costumes. “Duir and Coll are the buddy trailblazers,” explains Atwood. “They have a rustic frontier, so we needed to give them weapons. Muir and Quert have a more demure, spiritual side to them. Nion is outgoing and comedic, and then we have the salty dogs, Beith and Gort. The concept was that all of these guys are magpies, they steal and stash treasure all over the woodlands, but also carry a bit of bling under their coats.”
Mirror Man and Enchanting Creatures:
Additional VFX of the Epic
The dwarves were not the only characters upon which several department heads had to collaborate. While Sanders likes to keep as much of his shooting in camera as possible, there are many things that need the helping hand of visual effects wizardry to enhance and elevate a character or scene. To create Sanders’ vision of the world we see in Snow White and the Huntsman, the director and executive producer Borders enlisted the help of eight accomplished vendors from across the globe.
Visual effects producer Thompson discusses what drew her to such a massive labor of love: “I remember my first meeting on this film was with Rupert and Cedric Nicolas-Troyan about the tone poem that Rupert wanted to put together. It was a sales tool in a sense, but it wowed the studio because it was a great tonal guide and an insight to what Rupert wanted to achieve. Honestly, it was amazing. It really excited me about the movie and whilst I had planned to just prep the movie, I found that I couldn’t stop working on it because it just blew me away.”
Given her time frame, it was important for Thompson’s team to have different vendors concentrate on each area. They were able to divide up the work fairly easily, as the film naturally splits by characters and areas of expertise from different houses—all picked because of their reputations for being top of their game. These included such work as the creation of the dwarves, the Enchanted Forest creatures, the good fairies, the dark fairies, set extensions, face replacements, character aging and transformations and, of course, the Mirror Man.
Under the supervision of VFX supervisors Nicolas-Troyan and PHILIP BRENNAN, the houses achieved the following: Rhythm & Hues accomplished work on the dwarves, Enchanted Forest creatures, CG good fairies, CG bridge troll, CG magpies and CG ravens; Double Negative Visual Effects helped to create Dark Forest creatures (including dark fairies) and the intricate shard visual effects when Ravenna’s Shadow Army splinters; Pixomondo worked to create Ravenna’s Shadow Army, as well as assisted with crowd duplications and set extensions; The Mill developed the Mirror Man; BlueBolt crafted King Magnus’ castle (and the castle it becomes under Ravenna’s rule), as well as coordinated set extensions, digital matte paintings and CG fireballs during Ravenna’s attack on an advancing army; BaseBlack conducted digital matte paintings and set extensions; Lola VFX helped to imagine the dwarves, coordinated Ravenna’s face aging and face replacements and VFX of Snow White in her frozen state; and Hydraulx created CG swords and conducted work on Ravenna’s transformations.
Within Ravenna’s mirror chamber is the iconic magic mirror resting against the wall. This cherished-but-cursed relic has, over time, grown to become a physical entity. Ravenna is so obsessed with her own image that the mirror reflects a manifestation of her soul and her dark subconscious. Indeed, it allows the mirror to reveal what Ravenna truly has become. The mirror tells her what her subconscious knows and reveals a truth that she lets no other person witness.
The inspiration for Sanders’ Mirror Man was a sculpture called “Face-Off” by the talented London-based Irish artist KEVIN FRANCIS GRAY. “As we needed to capture Ravenna’s reflection in it on the camera, we had to create a fake standing Mirror Man so that she could see herself in it,” explains Nicolas-Troyan. “It’s entirely computer generated by a team at The Mill, and he’s never fully solid and never fully liquid. That was on purpose to reflect Ravenna’s character that is always changing…and not necessarily in a good way.”
For the Mirror Man scenes, Theron actually acted opposite a figure with a RED camera built into it so that it could record what her reflection would look like during the actual scene. At the same time the voice of the Mirror Man (CHRIS OBI) was just off set feeding lines to the actress.
So, does the Mirror Man actually exist? Is Ravenna the only person who sees him? Sanders and the producers would like for the audience to believe what they choose to believe.
The eight houses weren’t the only ones with tricks up their sleeves. Special effects are stamped all over the film, especially in the wintery world of Ravenna’s creation. For example, for the drops of blood spilled upon the snow by Snow White’s mother, Sanders thought the fake blood looked too fake. An easy solution? The director had the FX guys actually draw his own blood to use as the blood that appears on the snowy land.
Dark Castles and 800-Year-Old Oaks:
Set Design and Locations
The world in which Snow White lives was designed and created by The Bourne Supremacy’s Dominic Watkins, almost entirely on sets at Pinewood Studios in Buckinghamshire in the U.K. It was important for Sanders to have physical sets to shoot on, a rare treat for cast and crew who work on many productions that rely on huge green-screen stages to re-create their biggest sets.
As one might imagine, production was massive. Commends Sanders of his production designer’s work: “Dom did an incredible job with the amount of sets we had. We’d laugh at the amounts of work. Every weekend, there would be another three or four sets he’d have to build. Pinewood became like a maze from above. You’d walk through Hammond’s castle and go into Ravenna’s castle. You’d walk through that onto the troll bridge. While the troll bridge was being remade into the icy waste, there would be a village there. Everything was literally stacked in. Dom had an incredible time trying to manage that financially, creatively and practically. It was huge.”
Of the 23 or so sets built at Pinewood, the most massive was the impressive royal castle, once belonging to King Magnus before Ravenna usurped his rule, killed him and drained life from the kingdom. The foreboding castle was built in an auto park by the entrance to Pinewood Studios, dominating the skyline for the 24 weeks it took to create and the four weeks it was used for filming.
“It was our biggest single spend and the first set we had to crack on with, as it was a design bolted into the concept of the castle interior and exterior,” says supervising art director DAVE WARREN. “Dominic and Rupert had the concept in mind that the castle could only be approached by a causeway from a beach, and we found a beautiful beach with an island on a rocky isthmus peninsula…so the design of the castle grew.”
The beach Warren references is Marloes Sands in Pembrokeshire in Wales, where the main unit spent an entire week filming Stewart as Snow White, Hemsworth as the Huntsman and their rallied troops during an epic battle. These beach scenes played out against a stunning background. The rocks on the beach are unique in the manner in which they tilt, so the art department “squeezed” some of the rocks to form a mold. This technique allowed them to re-create the look on the castle interior at Pinewood.
An explanation of the technique: To squeeze, the area required was painted with layers of silicone and a layer of material similar to netting; this was then allowed to set. This mold was backed with plaster or foam for support and transported to the workshop at Pinewood Studios. The silicone mold was then used to re-create the desired shape or texture. Other squeezes include Tretower Village stone and slate, wall texture at a local church in Iver and the columns at St. Bartholomew’s Church in London.
More than 2,000 square feet of plaster stonework (polystyrene) and 700 sheets of various textured rocks were used to create both castles on the Pinewood back lot: King Magnus’ and the castle that belongs to Duke Hammond.
The royal castle goes through various stages over time. During Magnus’ reign, colorful flags donned the walls, courtiers are dressed in bright colors, trees blossom and flowers bloom. After his untimely demise, the castle was redecorated to Ravenna’s dark standards. Thoroughly black and as toxic as the heart that beats inside of the wicked Queen, the grounds are covered in dead vines and the walls are bedecked with torn and ragged blood-red flags.
The vines used to decorate the sets we find during Ravenna’s reign are called liana vines. They were grown in Malaysia especially for the production and were shipped over to the U.K. for use during filming—ultimately delivered to Pinewood in a 40-foot sea container.
Due to the unpredictable nature of every shooting schedule, the art department had to change the look of the castle several times. In order to complete Sanders’ required shots, they went from the Magnus-to-Ravenna look to the Ravenna-to-Magnus look during production. Each transformation took an incredibly short amount of time (only two and a half days) for the department to accomplish the complex transitions. Naturally, it required a good deal of working around the clock for a quick turnaround.
To give the reader an idea of the amount of prep work that went into the set design and eventual build, here are some staggering statistics. Approximately 15,000 artificial apple blossoms were used to cover an apple tree in the castle courtyard. Almost 60,000 hog rings were used to attach the blossoms to this tree. More than 1,500 trees, ranging in height from three to ten meters, were incorporated into the production. All of these trees have been used as part of the Black Park Forestry Program to restore the park to its prewar period. Approximately 3,000 faux floor slabs were produced, and the tree in the Enchanted Forest was constructed of 2,317 individual steel pieces.
Mercer was moved by Sanders’ fascinating decisions. The producer commends: “Rupert’s approach to the film design is that everything is just slightly enhanced or slightly taken into that fairy-tale zone. Just so it doesn’t feel too common and too familiar, yet it still put you in the right place and mood. For instance, scale was really important to him. It’s not like Snow White or the Huntsman just go by any tree: they walk by a 200-foot tree. It’s not just that the branches are normal. The branches are creepy and make Snow White’s journey through the forest edgy and creepy. It pushes our reactionary zone up just a little bit further—making us more on edge.”
In addition to constructing Duke Hammond’s castle on the back lot, production designer Watkins, art director Warren and their teams set about building the royal village, which was originally penciled to be shot on location in Wales. Due to logistics, to set decorating needs for various stages and to allow for more control over the shoot, a village had to be constructed. As with the castle, the village goes through two stages during the two reigns. Magnus’ village is a brightly colored, prosperous community, whereas Ravenna’s is a torched, ruined and run-down dwelling with a feeling of the crepuscular hour.
On a lighter note, the straw that was used in Snow White and the Huntsman is an ancient variety, grown especially for thatching roofs in Somerset. It was harvested in the traditional fashion using 1920s machinery. Humorously, the local pigeons discovered the thatching on the village set and descended to Pinewood, en masse, at about 5:10 p.m. to feast on the corn heads.
While the superior set designs of Watkins wowed those who laid eyes upon them, his team’s ability to turn a scrap of land, a clearing in the marshes or a normal part of the forest into something quite spectacular is unparalleled. They morphed familiar shooting locations into unrecognizable and beautiful set pieces. Who could have guessed that two mounds of earth on the back lot at Pinewood could become a troll bridge, or that a formerly dull, green part of parkland could transmogrify into the Enchanted Forest?
Several locations were used for both the Enchanted Forest and the Dark Forest including Bears Rails in Windsor Great Park, the Queen’s backyard. Roth acknowledges that he was amazed by how they were able to capture the scenes. He notes: “We shot the Enchanted Forest on the Queen’s land. It’s a beautiful area behind Windsor Castle, and the deer and elk that roam there can be traced to Henry V. We shot around trees that are centuries old.”
Bears Rails was chosen for its ancient wood pasture, which is full of 800-year-old oak trees, mainly used for ship building in days long gone. Burnham Beeches, Langley Park and a filming regular, Black Park (adjacent to Pinewood Studios), also formed part of the journey through Sanctuary and the Dark Forest. Additionally, a familiar location, Bourne Woods, played host to the epic battle scene at the beginning of our story when King Magnus rescues Ravenna…only to be betrayed the next day by the eternal beauty.
Source => Celebrity Wonder / Via => Kristen Stewart News